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2011 Steelers Offseason: Offensive Line

Through the recent years, this unit that has been under much duress, fought through so many injuries, and rarely had the same 5 start and finish a game on any given week, so they must be given some credit. They did help the team advance to the Super Bowl this year, and win 2 others since 2005.  Credit goes to guys like then offensive line coach Russ Grim and now current coach Sean Kugler who came over from Buffalo in 2010.  Kugler especially has brought a new toughness and tenacity to the line, and is a big reason why this unit didn’t completely fall apart this past season.  From the the offseason, these guys were taught to never give up, to fight to the end. The players themselves were no stranger to adversity and not giving up, but Kugler brought it a whole new level.  Losing your starting LT and RT before the season even started was a blow that many teams might not overcome. The Steelers responded by bringing in Flozell Adams and watching Jonathan Scott develop along with Doug Legursky and of course the emergence of Maurkice Pouncey at Center.  As a whole the line this year, even with all the ups and downs, stuck together and performed admirably.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 32 times in 2010, his lowest number in that category since 2005.  Even though that stat is a bit skewed since Ben missed the first 4 games this year, it’s still a good accomplishment overall. Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 1,273 yds. and 13 Touchdowns, also a credit to him as much as it is the line.

Still though, this group figures to be addressed in the draft and perhaps Free Agency as well. Things are still very much in question due to the CBA status and the looming possible lock out if a deal isn’t reached.  Regardless though the line will need some help.

Tackle: Flozell Adams signed a  2 yr. deal after starting Tackle Willie Colon went down with a season ending ruptured Achilles tendon. Colon was really starting to come into his own in 2009 and his future seemed bright. Now though he is a free agent, and the Steelers will have to decide if he is worth bringing back. Adams is still under contact so he could return in 2011 if he wants.  Max Starks neck injury also shortened his NFL season, being replaced by Jonathan Scott. Scott struggled early on but by the last quarter of the season and in the playoffs he was starting to find his niche and overall finished the year strong.  Make no mistake, Starks will retake his starting role in 2011, but atleast now the Steelers know they have a viable backup in Scott and some much needed depth at Tackle.  Scott will be a free agent but probably won’t garner any starting opportunities elsewhere so I look for him to return with a new deal.  The key is, do the Steelers think Colon can regain his form, and if so how much do they pay him?  Flozell is not the long term answer,  he turns 36 this summer. The Hotel was solid all year long and really stabilized the right side of the line once he got used to his new position.  If the Steelers do bring him back and let Colon walk, then Tackle will most certainly be a priority in the draft as they look for a young stud to groom at RT. Trai Essex can play both Tackle positions in a backup role and has been with the Steelers since 2005.  He had his chances to crack the starting line up when Tomlin came to the Steelers but was never able to take advantage of it.  Overall this group could use some help in the reserve role especially.

Center: This is one spot, finally, that the Steelers can ignore this offseason.  Since Jeff Hartings retired, the center position was in flux. An unfamiliar spot to be in considering the history of players at this position:  Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, and Jeff Hartings.  Enter 1st round draft pick Maurkice Pouncey; who took over the starting job at Center in training camp and never looked back. Pouncey anchored the line all year and just got better and better each week.  Sure he had some games that were a learning experience to say the least but overall there’s not a fan to be found that would want anyone else at Center for the Steelers.  Team Rookie of the Year and a 2010 Pro Bowl candidate, Pouncey is the future and it’s a bright one.  Let’s not forget that backup, jack of all trades, Doug Legursky also gave the Steelers some piece of mind.  Legursky played every position on the line in 2010 due to various injuries, and also started Super Bowl XLV after Pouncey’s high ankle sprain sidelined him.  Doug did a solid job and made B.J. Raji basically a non factor in the game over all.  Doug is just the type of lineman the Steelers love and they are lucky to have him.

Guard: 2010 had Chris “big juicy” Kemoeatu and Ramon Foster at LG & RG respectively.  Foster gained confidence as the year went on and seemed to work very well with Flozell Adams. In the playoffs especially, Mendenhall regularly found gaping holes on the right side of the line.  Those big runs that were bounced outside were courtesy of guys like Adams & Foster sealing the edge.  It would not be the end of the world to see Foster come back and start at RG in 2011. He along with Adams & Kemoeatu bring a mean streak to the line that is always good to see. They take pride in their job and have no issues getting in the face of the defense.  Kemoeatu was in a tough position most of the year. He was starting beside a rookie Center, and then after Starks went down, was sandwiched between 2 rookies.  Definitely not an easy position to be in but Kemoeatu battled each week and overall had a solid year.  His temper though got the best of him at times with personal foul calls that proved costly to the Steelers.  Guard should be a position that is addressed in draft, although does not figure to be a high priority.  Kevin Colbert, Sean Kugler, and Mike Tomlin will have to decide how much faith they have in Kemo & Foster; and it wouldn’t surprise us to see them bring in a free agent or a mid round draft pick to battle it out with the veterans.  Either way though, depth is definitely needed at this position.  Legurksy is capable of  filling in of course but if he called into duty, there is little help behind him.

The Steelers have largely ignored the Offensive Line on draft weekend for years, and it came back to bite them.  Drafting Pouncey was a no brainer, and certainly paid off.  The trick is now, trying to decide how best to improve this unit considering the help needed at other positions.  A starting lineup of Starks, Kemo, Pouncey, Foster, & Adams certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing in 2011,  but depth must be a priority for sure.

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